Funding Hypocrisy: Clemens T. Wiechecki

By Clemens T. Wiechecki

When the San Antonio Express-News, on Dec. 17, 2006, published a lengthy four-page article with pictures and graphs called: Formula to fight AIDS–local nuns struggle to save African babies,” my initial reaction was positive. I pictured the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word tending to the poor and downtrodden of Africa, providing a drug called Nevirapine and powdered milk to the AIDS-inflicted mothers and children of Zambia. The nuns were doing a fantastic job with little money and few facilities. The nuns should be commended and donations were in order.

I reread the article and found the nuns had been doing the job in Zambia since 2001. Where had the nuns gotten the funding for the drugs and powdered milk from 2001 to now? What else were they doing?

On Dec. 21, another article, entitled “Article on local nuns’ AIDS battle opens the donation floodgates,” appeared, documenting donations pouring in to help finance the nuns’ efforts. OK, more local religious propaganda, but none of my previous questions was answered.

Then, on Dec. 26, the newspaper ran an editorial: “Local nuns provide AIDS victims hope.” I read it and blew it off as more religious propaganda, until I realized that three articles in such a short period of time seemed to be a concentrated effort to solicit funds. The editorial mentioned again that along with the powdered milk, the nuns were distributing a drug called Nevirapine. My curiosity was aroused. The articles emphasized the drug, which I had never heard of, so I thought I would check it out.

I went to AOL search and initially checked several websites regarding Nevirapine: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, The Guerrilla News Network and the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration. According to the websites, which quote various medical studies, Nevirapine is marketed as Viramune and is an extremely dangerous drug which causes “fatal liver damage” and other “serious adverse effects.” The FDA felt the need to issue a “black box warning” advising about fatal liver failure and skin reactions/rashes, and to advise that “Viramune should always be administered in combination with other antiretroviral agents.”

A June 30, 2006, FDA News press release stated: “The agency’s tentative approval means that although existing patents and/or exclusivity prevent approval of this product in the United States, it meets all of FDA’s manufacturing quality and clinical safety and efficacy standards required for marketing in the United States.” Liam Scheff of the Guerilla News Network asks: “How does a drug that kills Americans save Africans?”

The newspaper articles didn’t mention that the drug was dangerous, or that it needs to be administered in combination with others. Nothing was mentioned about AIDS prevention or education. I decided to follow the money.

The FDA website opened electronic doors to additional websites which provided information concerning the fight against AIDS in Zambia. (See References)

Nothing in the San Antonio Express-News articles mentioned the $15 billion dollar President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) or that the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) received millions of dollars as a PEPFAR Partner in fiscal year 2005. The Catholic Diocese of Mongu receives funds from CRS and sponsors a Home Based Care (HBC) program that was also not mentioned. The efforts of the Zambian government were not mentioned. Nor was the Zambia National AIDS Network (ZNAN). None of the nongovernmental agencies’ (NGOs) efforts or the millions of dollars pumped into Zambia were mentioned. Death and disease are big business (the total population of Zambia is approximately 10 million people).

Two of the items that virtually jumped off my computer screen were “faith-based organizations” and “abstinence-only funding.” Catholic Relief Services is a faith-based organization and follows the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church as to proselytizing abstinence as the moral and practical answer to contraception and disease prevention.

If you have unprotected sex in Zambia, your chances are good that you will contract AIDS. Therefore, if you practice abstinence on the one hand, you disobey your god about procreation. If you have unprotected sex and contract AIDS, you disobey your god morally. It’s a no-win situation, yet the Roman Catholic Church still promotes abstinence, thus insuring future customers for after-the-fact AIDS care and getting paid to do it.

The logic reminds me of the clergy promoting the idea that disease was god’s will. Or that gays were created by a god, but are not allowed to act on their sexual urges. A god created us to be one way and his religion tells us to be another. Something is hypocritically wrong with that picture.

The Roman Catholic Church proselytizes abstinence as the only answer, but isn’t in control of its own supposedly celibate clergy. Clergy take oaths of celibacy, and can’t control themselves, yet they expect others to do so (See Black Collar Crime Blotter). The hypocrisy is palpable.

No matter whether you believe in intelligent design, the stork, or evolution, the reality is that most people will become sexually active by the end of their teenage years. Preaching abstinence denies reality and denial is not a river in Egypt.

According to USAID, 99% of Zambians know that AIDS exists, yet currently 10% of the population, or approximately 1 million people, have AIDS. Out of these 1 million people, according to the newspaper articles, the nuns serviced 80 women. According to AVERT, most of the young people in Zambia are sexually active. If the threat of a death-dealing virus doesn’t stop people from having sex, telling people to not have sex isn’t the answer.

An interesting side-effect of Nevirapine is that it reduces the chemical effects of oral contraceptives, therefore the FDA recommends condom use. The nuns’ religious corporate stance on abstinence makes condoms and other forms of “artificial” birth control and AIDS prevention unacceptable. That leaves the female Zambian in a precarious position with no oral contraception to prevent pregnancy or condom use to prevent AIDS, just possibly after-the-fact AIDS medication (along with powdered milk for their babies, who may be infected with AIDS). Another curious fact is that no African men are involved in the program. With no cure for AIDS in the immediate future, the millions of tax-payer dollars spent funding hypocrisy is ludicrous.

On the other hand, on Jan. 2, 2007, another article appeared in my local newspaper hailing the start of construction renovating the old chapel of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Hmm?

Clemens T. Wiechecki was born in Indiana in 1941, has a BA in Psychology and an AA in Human Resource Management. He married his wonderful wife Debbie in 1996. He retired from the USAF in 1980 and from the Postal Service in 2004. He wrote and published The Bible As Scrapbook as an e-book in 2004. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation